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Monday, February 14, 2011

Ego Te Absolvo

It's the classic line from a Roman Catholic priest who is remitting the sins of a confessor. It is absolution, the act of being absolved of sin -- forgiveness. Seems like we really want absolution. But I wonder why.

At first blush, you might suggest "guilty conscience". And I wouldn't really disagree. That's the truth. We know we're guilty and we want to be absolved of guilt. Not a real question. But ... why?

I know someone who did something that she knew would thoroughly disgust her mother. It wasn't a spur of the moment thing. It was a prolonged effort. She knew it would upset her mother and she was under no obligation to do it, but she chose to do it anyway. Having accomplished the deed, she exhibited no remorse for having done it. But what she was concerned about was that her mother forgive her. Now, you might think, "Well, she was concerned about the relationship." And that would be a good reason ... if her mother exhibited any indication that the relationship was at risk. She didn't. Her mother treated her like she always did, welcomed her over whenever she wished to visit, proceeded as if nothing had happened. Except, of course, that she didn't approve of the choice her daughter had made, and, although it didn't come up anymore (because nothing could be done to remedy it), it was never absolved. This girl worried about her mother's forgiveness until the day her mother died. It was her big concern. And she was greatly relieved at the funeral when her father told her, "You know, your mother did forgive you."

What had she gained? She didn't repent of the action. She didn't lose anything of her relationship with her mother. She wasn't about to change what she had done. She wouldn't want to. Still, she wanted absolution. Why?

I suspect that sometimes (certainly not all, but possibly far more often than we might think) we seek absolution as a means of feeling justification. "If I can get her to forgive me, what I did won't be so bad. In fact, if she forgives me, she is as good as saying, 'What you did was fine.'" I suspect that sometimes we seek absolution because we want to feel okay about what we did wrong rather than because we feel remorse.
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears (Heb 12:15-17).
He found no place for repentance even though he sought the blessing with tears. When is repentance not repentance, and when is absolution not absolution? It's when we are seeking the blessing without actually repenting. It is when we don't seek absolution, but approval. It is my suspicion that any one of us could fall into that trap.


Renata said...

Thanks, it was interesting reading your thoughts, even though I came here solely for the translation of "Ego Te Absolvo". I do agree with what you've said - about us often wishing to simply justify our behaviour instead of actually regretting having done that. In case of the first, we do concentrate on other people and their opinion which seems important (and perhaps is), however, as far as genuine regret is concerned, I think nobody has the power to give absolution you need except you and yourself only.

Fred B. said...

I too came only for the definition of "ego te absolvo" (reading Durant's great book The Age of Faith) but appreciated Renata's comment since it completely captured my thoughts .

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Came for the translation as was cited in 'the shadow of the the wind'

heresince1973 said...

Same as everyone above. Came for the translation, Katherine Hepburn says it to the priest in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner".